DSU's emergency plan goes mobile

Emergency operations planning? There's an app for that. Or there will be, at least, once Dickinson State University has finished populating it, as the university is in the process of creating a sophisticated phone application that will allow staf...

Emergency operations planning? There's an app for that.

Or there will be, at least, once Dickinson State University has finished populating it, as the university is in the process of creating a sophisticated phone application that will allow staff, faculty, students and the public to respond to and report emergencies and security risks on the fly.

The shift to digital reporting of emergencies replaces "what I call 'the big red binders.' That was the emergency operation plan," Marie Moe, DSU's director of communications, said. "That's the plan, it's in this big red binder-and the big red binder doesn't do you a whole lot of good if it's in your office."

Sitting in the office of Marty Parsons, DSU's vice president of finance and administration, Moe demonstrates how the app works with a prototype on her phone. She has her own unique login, which identifies her role in the university. The app then has both a general access emergency operation plan, broken up by type of emergency, as well as specific and individualized department instructions depending on who is logging on. Moe's prototype app has a section of instructions particular to the communications department, for instance.

"For my first couple of years working here I had a copy of that binder in the trunk of my car," she said. "So one of the things our emergency management planning has been doing has been moving all this to a secure, mobile platform."


The mobile application isn't finished yet, and hasn't been rolled out campus-wide, though that is the plan once it is finished.

"We weren't sure if this will work for us, but we were pleased with it-and there's a public facing version of this that you as an individual can go download, without having a login," Moe said. "It doesn't have the same level of depth, but it has a "push this if there's an active shooter, push this if there's a bomb threat.""

The public app would allow direct contact with the university's 24/7 security detail as well, she said. This is all a part of a push by the University to meet and exceed recommendations by audits and risk assessments to try to make DSU safer, more accessible and more modern.

"The emergency operation plan is basically to try and get you to make preliminary plans in case of some catastrophic event. That's the bottom line," Parsons said. "We just recently signed an agreement with an entity called Unesco (Corporation). These guys come in and they assess some of the behind-the-scenes engineering-type things, deferred maintenance-type things, and also life safety things. Now life safety, those items, those are the ones that fall under this category as far as I'm concerned. "

Parsons presented a list of projects that the University and Unesco planned out, the chart calculating the cost of the project as well as any potential savings that would result from its completion. These projects include some fairly critical safety issues.

"There's a lot of people who think fire suppression is important to have in a residence life building. We don't have that. We will after this summer," Parsons said. "There's also an elevator in our resident life building whose parts are about 40 years old and they do have breakdowns quite often. That's another life safety issue."

The fire suppression systems they already have in place need work, Parsons said, because they recently discovered the model of sprinkler heads they were using had been recalled "many years ago".

"The previous folks who worked here ... probably didn't know it, but we just found that out," Parsons said. "Reports like this and results out of audits ... that's what drives us to look at some of those things. We welcome audits. Audits help you do things better."


Parsons referenced a recent audit performed by Joshua Gallion, the state auditor, as well as a risk assessment performed by the Department of Homeland Security in 2016, which both offered pathways for improvement for the University's emergency preparedness. These recommendations are directly responsible for DSU establishing round-the-clock security and requiring uniformed staff.

Parsons and Moe stressed that these recommendations are not to suggest DSU is currently unsafe-it has been recognized by YourLocalSecurity, a part of ADT Monitoring, as the safest campus in North Dakota since 2016-but that they don't ever want to be complacent when it comes to emergency preparedness.

Over the next year they intend to complete over 40 projects and studies, coming to a cost of $7,996,335, but will in turn provide an annual total savings of $269,258. The University will pay for the annual costs of these improvements by utilizing those savings, while offsetting the rest of the costs through low interest loans, which Parsons said is a common practice for higher education facilities.

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